"The House by the Side of the Road"

Three people died this week: Don Kirshner, the veteran music mogul, hailed a “legend” for his creation and management of young rock groups in the 60s and 70s, including the Monkees; Sargent Shriver, described as the most influential non-elected politician in U.S. history, serving his brother-in-law John Kennedy’s administration as head of the Peace Corp and leading the War on Poverty for President Lyndon Johnson; and, an unnamed and unknown elderly man in Mongolia. The first two are being feted in the national press for their portfolios of achievement. The third is remembered only by the family he loved and the village he served throughout his unnoticed, publicly unremarkable life. Why consider the three? Because somewhere in our pantheon of cultural icons we as earth children have been fooled into the notion that the “legends” created by the press, the media and the public’s raucous clamor for the next “American Idol” are who matter most. But of course we know better . . . don’t we? It was Jesus who acclaimed the anonymous and unfeted of humanity by especially recognizing “whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple” (Matthew 10:42). No public office, no tabloid headline—just the anonymous gift of a cool drink of water to some stranger in need. And it is that one, Jesus declared, who “shall by no means lose his [eternal] reward.” No wonder these words a century ago: “Do not shut yourselves up to yourselves, satisfied to pour out all your affection upon each other. Seize every opportunity to contribute to the happiness of those around you, sharing with them your affection. Words of kindness, looks of sympathy, expressions of appreciation, would to many a struggling, lonely one be as a cup of cold water to a thirsty soul. A word of cheer, an act of kindness, would go far to lighten the burdens that are resting heavily upon weary shoulders. It is in unselfish ministry that true happiness is found. And every word and deed of such service is recorded in the books of heaven as done for Christ” (7T 50, emphasis supplied). Reminds me of the librarian poet Sam Walter Foss’s composition, “The House by the Side of the Road.” It’s a credo you and I can live by this year, can’t we? There are hermit souls that live withdrawn In the place of their self-content; There are souls like stars, that dwell apart, In a fellowless firmament; There are pioneer souls that blaze the paths Where highways never ran— But let me live by the side of the road And be a friend to man. Let me live in a house by the side of the road Where the race of men go by— The men who are good and the men who are bad, As good and as bad as I. I would not sit in the scorner's seat Nor hurl the cynic's ban— Let me live in a house by the side of the road And be a friend to man. I see from my house by the side of the road By the side of the highway of life, The men who press with the ardor of hope, The men who are faint with the strife, But I turn not away from their smiles and tears, Both parts of an infinite plan— Let me live in a house by the side of the road And be a friend to man. I know there are brook-gladdened meadows ahead, And mountains of wearisome height; That the road passes on through the long afternoon And stretches away to the night. And still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice And weep with the strangers that moan, Nor live in my house by the side of the road Like a man who dwells alone. Let me live in my house by the side of the road, Where the race of men go by— They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong, Wise, foolish - so am I. Then why should I sit in the scorner's seat, Or hurl the cynic's ban? Let me live in my house by the side of the road And be a friend to man.